Mike Lee, Burgess Owens are raising money for Herschel Walker’s Senate campaign — and keeping half of the cash

The Utah politicians join other Republicans, including Donald Trump, who are using Walker’s campaign to boost their own campaign coffers.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Burgess Owens are raising money on behalf of Herschel Walker ahead of Tuesday’s Senate runoff election against Democrat Sen. Rafael Warnock, warning the Georgia Republican could be the final bulwark against President Joe Biden’s agenda. It is not immediately apparent to donors that half of the money they contribute will go to Walker’s campaign, while Lee or Owens keeps the other half.

A fundraising email sent by Lee’s campaign last week is meant to look like he’s forwarding a plea from Walker, warning that the senator is raising more campaign cash.

“Warnock has been drastically outraising him, and we have to pick up the pace,” the email from Lee reads. “Please rush a generous contribution to help finish the job and pull off a huge win for Herschel.”

Democrats will have at least 50 seats in the Senate when the new Congress is sworn in next month. If Warnock defeats Walker, a Democratic majority would not have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris’s vote to break a tie.

“With a 50-50 Senate, Republicans still have a chance to defeat the worst of Biden’s agenda and stop him from appointing liberal judges,” Lee’s pitch to potential donors reads. “But if we lose Georgia and the Democrats gain an outright Senate majority, there’s no way we can stop him.”

Email recipients are sent to a donation website featuring a massive picture of Walker next to a box with suggested contributions ranging from $25 to $2,900. A disclaimer says any donations will benefit both Lee and Walker but does not specify how the money will be divided.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Burgess Owens at the Utah Republican Party election night party at the Hyatt Regency in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

The email from Owens touts Walker as “determined to stop the Democrat agenda.”

“America needs fighters like Herschel, who aren’t afraid to stand up to the Left. He’s pushing back against their socialist policies and running against one of Biden’s hand-picked puppets,” the email reads under a picture of Owens and Walker.

If donors miss a link that says “Click here for details or to edit allocation,” they would not know that half of their contribution will end up in Lee’s campaign account instead of all of the money going to Walker. If a contributor clicks on the bouncing $50 suggested donation, $25 automatically goes to Lee if no changes are made. If someone decides to donate an amount other than the recommended levels, that too would be split 50-50 unless an extra step is taken to adjust the amounts.

Similarly, donations made to Walker through Owens’ website are also split evenly unless donors change the allocation.

The ask from Republicans comes as Walker desperately seeks campaign cash in the homestretch ahead of Tuesday’s runoff. Walker’s campaign sent an email to donors late last week warning they were being outspent 3 to 1 by Warnock and 2 to 1 by outside groups.

And it’s not just Lee’s campaign piggybacking donations off Walker ahead of the runoff election.

Former President Donald Trump was keeping 90% of the cash he solicited for Walker but later changed the split to 50-50, reporter Sam Stein, POLITICO’s deputy managing editor for politics, on Twitter.

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign (NRSC), the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, kept 99 cents of every dollar raised for Walker, according to The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher.

Republicans using Walker to fill their coffers became so prevalent that Walker’s campaign had to ask them to stop, NBC News reported. Georgia Rep. Austin Scott accused other Republicans of using Walker to “capture data and donors for themselves” and urged supporters to donate to Walker directly, according to Fox News.

A spokesperson for Lee’s campaign said a separate company handled their online fundraising and believed the 50-50 split was a default setting. The webpage for Lee’s fundraising on behalf of Walker is managed by WinRed, the GOP’s online donation platform. It looks almost identical to other online fundraising efforts for Walker by other Republicans.

Using Walker to fundraise will help Lee replenish his campaign war chest. His successful reelection bid this fall against independent Evan McMullin was the most expensive political campaign in Utah history. The most recent financial disclosures showed Lee raised more than $9.1 million and spent nearly $8.4 million.

Reed Galen, a former Republican political consultant based in Park City and co-founder of The Lincoln Project, was highly critical of the fundraising tactics employed by Lee.

“It’s not about Utah. It’s not about the Constitution. It’s about Mike Lee feathering his nest,” Galen said.

Lee’s financial disclosures show no donations directly to Walker’s campaign during the 2022 election cycle. The Utah senator raised money in conjunction with several other Republican candidates during the 2022 election cycle, but those efforts were part of joint fundraising committees formed to benefit all involved.

Lee’s filings with the Federal Election Commission show he was part of more than a dozen joint fundraising efforts, two of which also included Walker.

The 2022 Founders Committee, which raised money for 11 GOP Senate candidates, donated approximately $21,000 to Lee’s campaign and just over $25,000 to Walker. Take Back the Senate, which raised funds for 44 Republican entities, including Lee and Walker, gave a little more than $35,000 to Lee and just over $53,000 to Walker.